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Columns & Editorials

October 7th, 1997

The Skinny

[The Bottom Line:]
BBEdit is an indispensible tool for Webmasters, and programmers and mainstream users will also find it quite useful. Its most important new features include an HTML table editor, enhanced HTML tools, and support for Mac OS 8's contextual menus.

Low hardware requirements, many useful features, new visual HTML Table Builder, printed documentation, and an excellent value.

Steep learning curve. Minor problems with HTML Table Builder. No support for style sheets or frames.

BBEdit 4.5
Processor: PowerPC or 68K
Memory Needs: 1MB
Hard Drive Space: 10-20MB
Price: $119
Publisher: Bare Bones Software

by: Oliver Dueck ([email protected])

The Mac software market has been flooded with new HTML editors over the last year or two, and almost all of them are visual tools that don't require you to hand-code your Web pages. Many of these programs are excellent and easy to use (Symantec Visual Page and GoLive CyberStudio come to mind), but many Web site designers continue to use text editors for creating their pages.

The most popular text editor used for HTML coding is BBEdit, from Bare Bones Software. Although originally used for programming, BBEdit is now used primarily for HTML work. The program has won praise from Webintosh before; we gave it an A rating in our February review of version 4.0.2. In August, Bare Bones released version 4.5.

The most apparent change, and a greatly needed one at that, is the inclusion of a 250 page hard copy user's guide. In our review of version 4.0, we complained that a printed manual costed $15 extra.

Ironically, Bare Bones has added a visual HTML tool to BBEdit 4.5, known as the BBEdit Table Builder. The Table Builder is a separate application and as the name implies, it is used to construct HTML tables. We were very impressed with this feature; the Table Builder is easy to use and generates excellent HTML code. However, there are a few minor problems. For one, you can't set cell dimensions as percentages, and some formatting tools cannot be used on more than one cell at a time.

Of course, you can still hand code tables in BBEdit, and you can also convert tab-delimited text into tables. The HTML tools support almost all commonly used tags, but some are missing. For example, it still doesn't support the FONT FACE or SPACER tags. More importantly, it doesn't help you at all when it comes to frames or style sheets.

BBEdit includes many useful features that make life easier for Webmasters, such as an HTML-aware spell checker and syntax coloring. Other useful tools include a link checker, an HTML syntax checker, and Balance Tags and Index Site functions. You can even use BBEdit to publish your site, thanks to a built in FTP client.

New in version 4.5 is the ability to drag and drop certain HTML elements onto your pages. And if you're using Mac OS 8, BBEdit now supports contexual menus. Mac OS 8 users will also appreciate the HTML color picker. Finally, BBEdit now features global backup capabilities.

The program's search and replace tool is excellent, as it supports multi-file searches, as well as Unix-style Grep searches. Another helpful feature is the ability to create groups of text files, which can be opened simultaneously rather than taking the time to open each one individually.

Included on the CD-ROM is Frontier, a powerful scripting language supported by BBEdit. For example, you can use Frontier's glossary feature to automatically link text to a Web site.

Because BBEdit sports dozens and dozens of useful features, it has a rather steep learning curve. Thankfully, Balloon Help and the Apple Guide continue to be useful, and the new printed user manual is a boon to both novice and experienced users.

BBEdit even runs on Macs with mere 68000 processors, and it uses as little as 700k of RAM. Unfortunately, with the default memory setting, we experienced lack of memory warnings, even when working with average size HTML pages. On the plus side, version 4.5 is actually faster overall than 4.0.4.

If you spend a lot of time working with Web pages, consider getting BBEdit - at $119, it's a great value. Even if you're hooked on a WYSIWYG HTML editor, you'll still find BBEdit useful to help manage your site. And it's a must-have for those of us who code our pages by hand. BBEdit continues to get better, and everyone's Mac could use a copy, even as a SimpleText replacement.

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